Don Young is at it again, this time speaking to a group of students at a Wasilla High School assembly on Tuesday morning, where he riled and offended nearly everyone present with his remarks, particularly on the topics of suicide and gay marriage. Witnesses said that the 81-year-old congressman was insensitive, disrespectful and offensive, and that his discussion was sprinkled with profanity.
Young became confrontational with some students who asked questions or disputed what he said. Suicide was a particularly sensitive topic, as Wasilla High had a student commit suicide last Thursday, and the school is still reeling from that loss. Teacher Carla Swick asked a question about what Young’s office is doing about Alaska’s high violence and suicide rate. Young responded that, in addition to depression and alcohol’s contribution, that suicide shows a lack of support from family and friends. The insensitivity of the comment reportedly stunned the audience, students and staff alike. Principal Amy Spargo said she “felt the oxygen go out of the room.”
A friend of the suicide victim shouted out that “He had friends. He had support,” and shouted that “it’s depression – you know, a mental illness.” Young’s response was to ask if one just goes to the doctor and gets “diagnosed with suicide.”
In typical Don Young fashion, the presentation was peppered with rude language and blunt assessments that many found to be rude. He frequently used the words “***hole”, “hell” and “smartass,” as well as stories inappropriate for young people, such as when he talked about flying to Paris to get drunk. When asked why he was so opposed to gay marriage he responded that you just cannot have marriage with two men because it was like “bull sex.” He said something about “bullshazzle,” or perhaps it was a different word that is a more familiar obscenity.
One student, junior Zachary Grier, was particularly excited to see Alaska’s sole congressman, after reading media coverage of the debate in Kodiak between Young and Democratic candidate Forrest Dunbar, who is challenging for Young’s Alaska congressional seat. The debate was publicized more for what happened off the debate floor than on, as Dunbar claimed that, after brushing past Young and touching his arm, Young told him not to touch him, as the last guy who touched him “ended up on the ground dead.”
Grier had questions prepared for the congressman, first asking about Ballot Measure 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana in Alaska. Young “was completely against.” Grier followed up with questions about the debate in Kodiak, and then asked the same-sex marriage question, about why it is so bad in Young’s eyes. During the exchange Young told Grier twice to take his hands out of his pockets, which Grier politely did. Then came the classic Don Young answers to same sex marriage, at which point PrincipalSpargo headed for the microphone because “it was time to be done.” She said the one-hour assembly’s time was up and the discussion was getting argumentative.
Spargo said that on the way out Young asked her about the student who had shouted at him. When she explained that he was a friend of the boy who committed suicide, Young told her “that boy needs to learn some respect.”
Young’s office has tried to backpedal on the congressman’s comments, with a written statement saying he “should have taken a much more sensitive approach.” However, Young himself dug the hole deeper the next day, as he spoke to about 100 people at the Palmer senior center, where he expanded on his already offensive remarks concerning suicide. When he was asked about his comment from the previous day about suicide being due to a lack of support, Young said that suicide in Alaska did not exist before residents gained an entitlement mentality due to “government largesse.”
He said that when people had to hunt, fish and cut wood in order to survive the state did not have the suicide problem. He told the crowd that suicide is not a disease but a “mental illness.” Young said that he was frustrated by the interruptions from the student the previous day at the high school, who “had the gall to say suicide was a disease.” The presentation, unlike the assembly at the high school, was recorded.
Young could not seem to stop with the inflammatory comments, continuing to complain about the behavior of the students the previous day, saying that he was upset with a school system that would support individuals that are being disrespectful to fellow students. This was based on his assessment that the students interrupting him were interfering with the other students’ ability to listen to the presentation.
Young has been in office as the sole congressional delegate for Alaska for the past 22 terms. Dunbar, the most current in a long stream of opponents vying for the Congressional seat, said in a written statement released on Wednesday that the situation “has gone past the point of bizarre.” With the election fast approaching it will be interesting to see if the “Congressman for All Alaskans” continues to hold onto the seat he has sat in for over 40 years. It has been obvious for many years that he has no qualms about not holding onto his tongue.
Opinion By Beth A. Balen